ORCHARD PARK – If there’s one quarterback in the NFL who you would figure Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor has studied closely as well as looked up to, it’s the man he’ll be facing off against Sunday afternoon at New Era Field.
Well, that “looked up to” part might not be accurate because the 6-foot tall Drew Brees is actually an inch shorter than Taylor, but you get the drift. Taylor and Brees — the future Hall of Famer who brings the red-hot New Orleans Saints to town — are among the shortest quarterbacks in the league, and Brees provides for Taylor a shining example of overcoming challenged vertical stature.
The 38-year-old Brees has thrown for 68,325 yards, third-most in NFL history behind Peyton Manning and Brett Favre; he has six of the eight highest single-season completion totals in league history; and he has a record five 5,000-yard passing seasons.
We could keep going, but the accolades for Brees consume six pages in the Saints’ media packet this week. That’s printed on 8½-by-11 paper, in case you were wondering, so make no mistake, Taylor has paid close attention to the way Brees operates.
“Drew is one of my favorite quarterbacks of all time, somebody I definitely watched growing up,” Taylor said Wednesday. “Had a chance to meet him a couple years ago and to see some of the things he does in the offseason and how he works and approaches the game. Definitely somebody I admire.”
The two quarterbacks play a different style; Brees is a classic pocket passer while the ultra-athletic Taylor does his best work on the edges of the pocket. Lack of height has been a difficult challenge for Taylor and his struggles throwing over the middle have been well-documented. For Brees, being 6-feet tall hasn’t hindered him because he’s able to make subtle moves to avoid pressure, and he’s a quick thinker who goes through his progressions in rapid-fire fashion.
“From a size factor, he’s somebody I can compare myself to as far as moving in the pocket and finding throwing lanes and playing the game from the pocket,” said Taylor. “He’s just a hard worker, he’s going to try to out-work any and everyone, and he wants success for his guys.”
Being short is certainly not an issue for the Bills’ newest wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder brings a new dimension to the Buffalo offense, and being a big target should certainly help Taylor as he’s peering through the arms and helmets of big defensive linemen.
“He’s a big target, and some of those 50-50 jump balls, you can trust that he’ll make a play on it,” said Taylor, who finally got a chance to practice with Benjamin on Monday, and then again Wednesday. “He’s made a bunch of those plays, especially in the red zone, going up and making those contested catches.”
Taylor has had conversations with third-string quarterback Joe Webb, who was Benjamin’s teammate in Carolina for three years. Webb threw countless passes to Benjamin in practice, and he gave Taylor some tips on what Benjamin likes to do. Taylor also watched video of Benjamin to cull more information.
“Me and Joe talked … some of the things he noticed with Kelvin in Carolina, some of the things he did well, just ways to allow him to make plays,” said Taylor. “We have a cut up (video) that was made and I was able to watch some plays of his, try to get a feel for him watching film.”
Benjamin, who had 32 receptions for 475 yards with Carolina, all thrown by 6-foot-5 Cam Newton, worked extra after Monday’s practice with Taylor, and that will continue until the two are comfortable with each other. Interestingly, he did not think the height difference between Taylor and Newton would matter that much, even though it’s easier to look back and spot Newton.
“I haven’t caught a lot of balls to judge on that, but I bet it is (a little different), but he has a guy like (Andre) Holmes so he’s been throwing to tall receivers,” said Benjamin. “There’s going to be adjustments. We’re football players, that’s why we have to just keep working it, keep working it, keep catching passes, keep throwing it and catching passes from each other.”
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison doesn’t figure to push too much on Benjamin in these first couple weeks, but there’s an expectation that Benjamin will be able to contribute Sunday despite his limited practice time.
“You certainly have to tell him where to be, the formations,” said Dennison. “Then, getting him in the right framework, as far as this is the concept, this is how we’re teaching it. The routes, I’m sure he’s run similar routes just looking at the tape, but what we call it, the route technique and how we do it, and then getting him to play with the rest of the guys. He’s one of 11, it’s still going to be all 11 guys making plays. We just started, but he’ll be on the field. (He has a) good chance to make some catches, and make some plays for us.”
Brees won’t have these concerns Sunday. He’s completely in unison with his stable of receivers which includes wideouts Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr., backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and tight end Coby Fleener.
“I would say they rival that, absolutely,” coach Sean McDermott said when asked if the Saints have as much, or more, talent than the Atlanta Falcons. “Playing at a high level, the No. 2-ranked offense overall, an elite quarterback and future Hall of Famer. What a challenge for a team that we’re building.”